The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

House censures Rep. Gosar, ejects him from committees over video depicting slaying of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez

The House of Representatives voted on Nov. 17 to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) and to eject him from his committee assignments. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The House voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) for tweeting an anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging swords at President Biden — a move that comes amid growing worries about violent political rhetoric 10 months after a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol.

The 223-to-207 vote, with one member voting present, marks the first time in more than a decade that the House has censured one of its members. The resolution also removes Gosar from his assignments on the House Oversight and Natural Resources committees.

“Disguising death threats against a member of Congress and a president of the United States in an animated video does not make those death threats any less real or less serious,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said during Wednesday’s debate, describing GOP leaders’ refusal to reprimand Gosar as “outrageous.”

What happens when a member of Congress is censured?

The day brought the post-Jan. 6 tensions in Congress to the fore and highlighted Republicans’ increasing tendency to defend their GOP colleagues against any criticism from Democrats, regardless of the behavior at issue.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) criticized lawmakers who didn't condemn an animated video that depicted Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) fatally slaying her. (Video: Casey Silvestri/The Washington Post)

Most Republicans who spoke on the floor Wednesday focused their remarks on attacking Democrats as power-hungry hypocrites bent on destroying the country and unwilling to discipline their own members for what Republicans claimed were similar acts. But beyond brief mentions of not condoning violence, few Republicans directed any criticism at Gosar for posting a video depicting himself plunging a sword into the back of a colleague’s neck.

Some GOP lawmakers dismissed the video as a joke, or noted that cartoons are often violent; others said Gosar took down the video and that should be enough. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pledged to strip several Democrats of their committee assignments if Republicans succeed in taking control of the House next year.

The Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol was neither a spontaneous act nor an isolated event.

A censure is less severe than expulsion from the House but more severe than a reprimand. Shortly after Wednesday’s vote, Gosar stood in the well of the House chamber as Pelosi read aloud the censure resolution and a verbal rebuke.

About a dozen Republicans stood beside Gosar in a show of support as he was censured. Ocasio-Cortez observed the censure from the front row of the House, about 15 feet away from Gosar, with Democratic Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sitting beside her.

Two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), joined Democrats in backing the measure. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) voted “present,” citing his membership on the House Ethics Committee and the possibility that Gosar’s posting could come before the panel.

In remarks on the House floor ahead of the vote, Gosar rebuffed calls to apologize. Instead he struck a defiant tone, denouncing what he described as a “false narrative” that the video was “dangerous or threatening.”

“It was not,” Gosar said. He compared himself to one of the country’s founders, Alexander Hamilton, “the first person attempted to be censured by this House,” and insisted that the video was a symbolic rebuke of Biden’s immigration policy. Hamilton was accused of mishandling two government loans as treasury secretary. The censure vote against him failed.

Ocasio-Cortez, who has faced threats and been accosted by other House Republicans in the past, said Wednesday’s resolution is not about her or Gosar, but rather about “what we are willing to accept.”

“What is so hard about saying that this is wrong?” she asked.

In defending Gosar, she said, Republican lawmakers have embraced “the illusion that this was just a joke, that what we say and what we do does not matter so long as we claim a lack of meaning.”

“Now, this nihilism runs deep, and it conveys and betrays a certain contempt for the meaning and importance of our work here,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Rep. Greene aggressively confronts Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, causing New York congresswoman to raise security concerns

Gosar has long drawn criticism for his extremist views, including his spreading of the false claim that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 were part of a left-wing plot. In February, he appeared at an event whose organizer called for white supremacy. Gosar later distanced himself from the organizer’s remarks.

Wednesday’s House vote comes a little over a week after Gosar shared a 90-second clip that appears to be an altered version of the opening credits of the Japanese animated series “Attack on Titan.” The show revolves around a hero who sets out to destroy the Titans, giant creatures that have devoured nearly all of human civilization.

“Any anime fans out there?” Gosar said in the tweet in which he shared a link to the altered video.

In one scene in the video, Ocasio-Cortez’s face is edited over one of the Titans’ faces. Gosar flies into the air and slashes the Titan in the back of the neck, killing it. In another scene, Gosar swings two swords at a foe whose face has been replaced by that of Biden.

McCarthy and other GOP leaders have not publicly condemned Gosar’s video. McCarthy told CNN on Monday that he called Gosar when he heard about the video and noted that the congressman “made a statement that he doesn’t support violence, and he took the video down.”

In House floor remarks Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me” and promised political payback if Republicans retake the majority.

“What [Democrats] have started cannot be easily undone. Their actions today and in the past have forever changed the way the House operates,” he said, naming several Democrats who “will need the approval of a majority” to keep their committee assignments in a GOP-led House.

Would-be speaker Kevin McCarthy walks the Trump tightrope, pursuing a GOP House

Even as they decried the unfairness of the House acting to revoke Gosar’s committee assignments, some Republicans have argued in favor of taking similar action against their 13 GOP colleagues who recently voted in favor of Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan.

Twitter originally placed a “public interest notice” on Gosar’s tweet, which it said had violated its policy against hateful conduct. Gosar has since deleted the tweet.

In defending the video Wednesday, Gosar cited the notice posted by Twitter.

“Even Twitter, the left’s mouthpiece, did not remove the cartoon, noting it was in the public’s interest for it to remain,” he said.

The White House condemned the video last week, and Pelosi called for investigations by the House Ethics Committee and law enforcement.

In response to Gosar’s video last week, Ocasio-Cortez listed several times she was accosted or harassed at the Capitol by Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) and Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.), who left office in January.

“All at my job,” she tweeted, along with an upside-down smiley face. “[And] nothing ever happens.”

The last member censured by the House was then-Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) in December 2010. In an overwhelming 333-to-79 vote, the House reprimanded Rangel for 11 rules infractions that included 17 years of unpaid taxes on property in the Dominican Republic, more than $500,000 in undisclosed financial assets and inappropriately raising millions of dollars for a New York City college from corporations with business before the Ways and Means Committee, of which Rangel once was chairman.

During Wednesday’s House debate, several Democratic women spoke out about the increasing threats they have faced in recent months.

“This routine brand of violence against women in politics is a direct attempt to silence us,” Rep. Nikema Williams (Ga.) said. She added that she has had to get security for herself and her family after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (Pa.) noted that Gosar’s video has been viewed more than 3 million times. In past years, she said, such a video “might have been excused as a lapse in judgment or even possibly a bad joke — but this Congress knows what happens when members of the radical right get stirred up by their leaders.”

Threats and disinformation spread across the country in the wake of the Capitol siege, shaking the underpinnings of American democracy.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) countered that Democrats are “rushing to condemn a Republican member for actions . . . which he has already sought to address.” Instead of censuring Gosar, Cole said, the House should have referred the matter to the Ethics Committee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued that “we have better things to do on the floor of the House of Representatives than be the hall monitors for Twitter.”

“Congressman Gosar removed the tweet, and I hope he regrets it,” Gaetz said.

In an interview Tuesday with outlets including Gateway Pundit, an opinion and commentary blog that frequently promotes baseless conspiracy theories, Gosar compared his video to popular children’s cartoons.

“If my cartoon can be banned, and my free speech is to be banned — then the Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney and indeed most of Hollywood obviously could be banned as well — not to mention Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner,” Gosar said.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the censure resolution, pushed back against Gosar’s efforts to play down the violence portrayed in the video. Speier, who announced Tuesday that she will not seek reelection in 2022, referenced the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), as well as her own experience as a survivor of the 1978 Jonestown massacre, in which her then-boss, Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), and four others were killed in Guyana by members of a cult led by Jim Jones.

“I know what violence can do,” Speier tweeted. “My mentor Congressman Leo Ryan was shot 45 times & killed in cold blood. My friend Gabby Giffords thankfully survived her shooting. This is not a game. We cannot condone the incitement of violence. Violence begets violence. We must censure Rep Gosar.”

At a meeting Tuesday of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the panel’s chairman, noted the impact that threats have had on the security of Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers.

“Is there no decency? Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has to pay for her own security, and the threats that she gets come as a result of behavior like we have seen with Mr. Gosar,” McGovern said.

In February, the House voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments for past extremist and racist remarks. The vote was 230 to 199, with 11 Republicans joining Democrats to remove Greene from the committees.